May I start reading?
Harold M. Sader stared deeply into the bottom of his porcelain coffee cup; blinking only as the bubbles of his black, morning stew erupted. His thoughts, although, were not about the sabotage of his tongue due to the pungently cheap coffee inside the cup, but with the cup itself.
He had often taken this certain mug from the office break-room when he was late to work. It was always the last one picked, obviously because it was stout, with an ungenerous allotted volume. Harold often found himself blaming the mug (through some godless, yet cosmic reasoning) for any shoddy events that might transpire throughout the day. Though, Harold would find that his luck, more often than not, was nil regardless of the existence of this certain mug. An ever bitter and distrusting man, Harold would never question the contradictory nature of his superstitions. But the cause of the mug’s deviousness and conspiracy of hatred towards Harold had little to do with its unattractive looks or its notorious stinginess of anything it contained. The mug’s dress was what riddled Harold with unease: The insignia on the front; the big red and yellow “S”.
The salt from Harold’s peeled eyes dripped sporadically into the mug. These tears, however, were not somber as much as they were filled with an unaccepted rage. It was the last Friday in April and he had managed to get to work on time, all month, having avoided obtaining the unlucky mug. “Just my fucking luck!” Harold screamed between his ears, “Not today!”
Harold started to accept the unavoidable fate of the day that lay ahead, and his neck lifted to meet the radiance of his computer screen. Harold placed the mug beside his computer and next to a pad of paper that he used to jot down the names of old films he wanted to see again, as well as doodles of 1930’s movie stars. When he started to come to, appropriately enough for Harold’s newfound disposition, an unwanted voice interrupted.
“Harold, may I see you in my office in fifteen?”
“Of course.” Harold shot quietly.
The voice forebode the perturbing but affirming events of Harold’s day, and sprang from none other than Harold’s boss, David Salinger. Salinger’s story…
I believe it’s relevant to mention.
Well, I actually know Dave Salinger very well. He is the one that introduced me to Maggie.
I’m painting you a picture.
Salinger’s story is that of a self-made businessman. He was an ex-cop. And although he was simple minded blue collar American (the pay security was his only reason for joining the force), he was cunning in his approach of monetary exploits. Once he had the training and contacts from his short stance as a beat cop, he quit to venture into the fine, and often boring, life of private investigation. Aside from investigating insurance fraudulence, which was the financial rake for most modern P.I.s, he had set up a subsidiary company that incorporated his people-searching tools in an almost effortless venture. Salinger had set up a subsidiary company, Pearl Inc., in just under a year after becoming a P.I.
Pearl Inc. had a simple business model. Salinger started purchasing lists from the government of American citizens who had never received their tax refunds. Utilizing his people tracking services and contacts obtained through the P.I. gig, he reached the “owed” citizens and told them about the money that was sitting in limbo for them. For a 15% finder’s fee, he would connect them to the funds. The process was arduous, but often worth it to Sally EveryGirl to let go of $300 of a $2,000 find for such a complicated service. Harold Sader was hired as one of five employees to find these shocked, and often ecstatic, people by computer and telephone.
No shit, you know the company. That’s your job. I still have a hard time getting it. It helps me understand it more if I talk about it.
The pay was above minimum with unexceptional benefits, yet, It supported Harold’s lifestyle just fine. His wife Maggie and his one bedroom apartment were equally as unexceptional, and, to his chagrin, absurdly manageable. Harold had become accustomed to low expectation and regarded it highly. But it must be reinstated of Harold’s often contradictory nature. Case in point: his life-long love of fantastical literature and old films; he distasted the newspaper and television programs highly. The more introverted he felt, the more unique he came to fancy himself, even though the relevance of his life was often a concern of his. This orogoroughs in his mind never failed to result in an unabashed revolt against human interactions.
Harold sulked into Salinger’s office expecting the worse.
Because of the mug, remember?
Salinger said while leaning on his office desk, “Take a seat, Harry.”
“Come again?” Salinger did not hear Harold’s muttered correction.
Harold was quick to start, “I was only fifteen minutes late, I…”
“Oh no, Harry. That’s not why I called you in here.”
“What can I do for you Mr. Salinger?” Harold reposed.
“Well, Harry, I’ve been going over everyone’s numbers, and this isn’t so much a bad thing, as much as a peculiarity.”
Harold, quick to pounce, “How do you mean? I’ve had a great couple of months, obtaining the highest percentage of money out of anybody!”
“No, I know. Harry, the funny thing is that you work twice as hard as anybody here. And after some mathematical reasoning, you really don’t have to.”
“I’m sorry?” Harold repositioned in his chair.
“If you take last month’s list, for example, you worked every case that was $1,500 and under. Sure, you were a success 99% of the time… All I’m saying is that you could have worked four huge accounts instead of …” Salinger looked down at his paperwork, “…twenty-eight, and would have met the quota quicker.”
Harold had strategically opted not to handle the big clients. He often grunted to a local bartender and friend, Tom Tully, that if “the people were dumb enough not to figure out the fortune they were missing, they didn’t deserve it. These fucks ought to be poor. They could potentially get, from the government mind you, a small fortune that anyone in this damn bar would kill for, and they have no clue it’s there.” He would quip, “I could’ve saved my mother’s life with that kind of money. Instead I had to force her into a cheap hospice. When I got out of my service to this country, they left me with nothing. Those dumb-witted bastards; I should have that money.”
Oh yes, I have failed to mention in this statement so far that Harold had a predilection to stretch the truth. The bastard, pardon me, was never called on his bullshit…thus… the ever forming incredible reality he made for himself.
How do I mean? Harold had never served in the army, and his mother is still alive for chrissake. These tales were comfortable and aggrandizing for Harold’s rather boring reality; no matter how inexplicably dishonest he was, he managed to organize these lies well enough so that the people he knew never found him out.
He never fed Maggie any of that bullshit. They’re lives were completely separate.
Can you tell how biased I am? Does this discount me as a witness?
Take a joke.
Yes, um, Salinger’s office…
“Fish for the big ones, get the stragglers after you run the lake dry. “ Salinger remarked, trying to make light of the uncomfortable situation. Harold was a hard worker, but always made Salinger uneasy. Especially in one-on-one chats, no matter the context.
“I understand,” Harold said through his crooked teeth.
“I mean, save the little ones for a rainy day, like today, Harry.”
“Yes, Mr. Salinger.” Harold was quick to exit the conversation.
Harold had not checked the weather report that Friday morning. As he left the clear glass doors of his one story office building, his knapsack was caught in the door and his scribble ridden papers and a Jules Vern novel fell to the ground. Instead of quickly picking up the mess, he wide-eyed the ominous gray clouds, allowing them to drip their salt into his bright brown eyes. He angrily strolled to the metro station, allowing the sweltering wetness to engulf him. He had accepted the discomfort. He walked by a newsstand and nabbed a Daily Planet to shield his short brown hair of the wet mess. He…
As I have mentioned,
… had decided it would be a disastrously and unmitigated hell-of-a-day. And since he had accepted this, it brought him a rebellious comfort in his understanding the weight of his world.
Right before the station, on the corner of 13th and Wilder, he ducked inside a familiar haunt. Tully’s pub had been a sign of relief for those “S” cup days, or any day for that matter, for over the six years Harold had been married, and an employee at Pearl, Inc. . Harold used drink as his reward for a moot day. This last Friday in April was no exception.
Tom Tully, owner of the pub, had been an equal to Harold’s sunny disposition. Tom was a soldier in the trench of life, who had always quipped fantastically awful tales to match Harold’s woe. As Harold took his usual seat at the corner of the far end of the dark bar, Tully smirked. Ready with Harold’s Tap of cheap and watered down beer, over ice, Tom was stopped by the television above Harold. Harold, meeting Tom’s eyes, careened his head to the television.
“Crowds from all over the world gathered around their television sets, aghast, by the announcement of the complete disarmament of North Korea’s nuclear weaponry. But how is an even more fantastic story…
That’s right, Sanjay. It seems that America’s most prized treasure, Superman, was the catalyst of peace in over a decade long struggle with North Korea. With the exemplary tact of disarming the nation, by way of removing the weapons and freezing them in outer-space, Superman managed to garner a treaty between North Korea’s and America’s leaders in less than 48 hours without the help of the United Nations. Truly a celebratory day for American citizens with the threat of North Korea’s proposed attacks finally eliminated.”
I’m sure you remember the day.
People are still worried about where those weapons went.
Tully’s erupted with cheer. Tom, still staring at the monitor, set Harold’s drink down on the bar to Harold’s left. As Tom’s eyes fell from the television they were met by Harold’s disheveled stare. “Oh come on, Harold, even a curmudgeon like you can relish in this!”
“What the fuck does it matter?” Harold huffed, “We would have just killed them off for good, anyway. That blue and red bastard just fucked necessary population control.”
“Oh come on, you old jerk, lighten up!”
“I’ve had a less than enjoyable day, Tom.” Harold was always quick to use pity to his advantage. “The last thing I need is to see that super-illegal-alien tampering with natural selection, with fucking with our rights as Americans to war when we need to. We don’t need him to fix our problems! We were doing fine before he showed up. Shit, I think things have been worse than ever since he dropped in.”
“He probably saved billions of people. Fuck, Harold, you were in Desert Storm, you of all people should understand the seriousness of war.” Tom gave a quick and concerned glance to Harold, and then quickly dropped his head, shaking it. Tom knew he had given the spark to ignite one of Harold’s terrible tangents.
“First of all, that was Kuwait, Tom. Any of those crooked bastards should be regarded the same in my eyes. He can’t stay out of the headlines for one goddammed second. He loves seeing his perfect face all over the news… him and his super-ego. Where was He when 9-11 happened? Where was that special fuck, then? People are quick to forget, Tom. This is just some sly political move on his part for fucking all that up. He screws up all the fucking time. He can’t save everybody or fix everything, and no one remembers that. And you can’t ever say ‘He’s only human’ because he’s fucking not. He’s just as good as those dammed spics. He’s a fucking illegal alien. He got an unsubstantial country to give up their weapons and everybody forgets these fucking things? I should’ve known this day was fucked.” Harold calmed and stared down at his beer, he muttered to himself, “Because of that fucking coffee cup.”
“Jesus, Harold, what are you, jealous?” smirked Tom.
Tom glanced at an old broken man at the opposite end of the bar. “Hey Gary, you hear this? Fucking Harold, over here, is jealous of Superman!”
“Fuck you, Tom.” Harold sniffed.
“Wow, you must’ve had a bad day Harold. Go home, get some rest, maybe get your wife to help you release some of that anger, eh?”
As Tom walked away, Harold pulled out a five dollar bill, folded into a small square, and dropped it into his nearly full beer. He got up from his stool, grabbed his knapsack from the hat rack, walked outside and took a deep breath. He was ready to face the grey again. The color had always calmed him, and the rain had resolved to a light mist.
Metropolis was in frenzy. It seemed that the sound of the now deceased rain shrouded the concrete jungle’s roar. He missed the comfort of his expected discomfort signified by the rain. Harold regretted going to the bar. He regretted being anywhere but on his living room sofa, for that matter. Now he was enraged. Like a muscle spasm that never manifests, he walked in circles around the entry to the underground metro, warding off spangers and trivial conversation, incessantly trying to regain control of his regret.
Well, obviously his decisions about the use of his inertia never satisfied him.
Ya, I guess I am a fucking psychologist.
You want me to read this or not?
As Harold sat on the F train, he noticed at least 7 copies of the Daily Planet being read. He remembered the copy he grabbed to shield himself from the rain. He took it out of his knapsack and stared at the front page. “SUPERMAN DISHARMS NORTH KOREA”, it read in large letters. The portrait was of Superman wearing an American diplomat sash. The story that followed was written by retired Daily Planet editor Perry White. Harold did not read the article. He stared at the photograph for the entire train ride. The salt from his brown eyes dripped onto the page making large blue, red, and yellow ink blots on Superman’s chest. The tears fell from the same angry pool that dripped into the Superman mug that ruined his day, that Friday morning.
Big red and yellow “S”…?
Harold recalled the first time he had seen Superman. The image was on the cover of his hometown’s paper, when he was but 5 years old. Throughout his childhood, he was enthralled with Him, just as every young child was. His father was reading that paper. Harold had reached for the picture, repeatedly, to stare at what he surmised was the perfect human being. Harold couldn’t recall what the story was about, but he could recall his father yelling and eventually back-handing him as a result of his incessant grabbing. Papa Harold’s drinking, yelling, and hitting would be prevalent through Harold’s childhood until his father’s death from an apparent suicide.
Harold, of course, was the one who found his papa’s body in the family barn with a shotgun between his legs. His boot on his right foot was removed; his big, right toe on the trigger. Shortly after, Harold went to Metropolis University where he stayed for only a year of general studies. He never went back to Smallville, where his mother still runs the sader milk farm.
No, I don’t recall.
He met Maggie at M.U., married her, and got the job at Pearl sometime later.
When Harold returned above ground, a couple blocks south of the Daily Planet building, it was night. His four story apartment building stood alone; a community garden to the left (which Harold and his wife never had anything to do with), and a busy metropolitan street to its right. He paused caddy-corner to the building, and stared at the far left second story window. The light was on; usually his wife, Maggie, would be fast asleep before he returned home. Maggie was probably preparing for sleep, at least he had hoped.
They rarely ever had dinner together anymore. Maggie hated cooking, especially because she was the house cook at a local diner. She usually brought home sub-par diner food for supper because all they had was a house full of condiments and mix-matched ingredients: Pantries full of pasta, but no sauce, bread, yet no lunch meat, and rice, but no vegetables. Sometimes, if Harold started his day early, he was lucky enough to get free breakfast at the diner. This was rare, though, and usually, like that last Friday of April, he would resolve to intake coffee all day long at work, top it off with a beer or three at Tully’s, and pick at the left over fried chicken or spaghetti she brought home from the diner. He loved eating alone; eating around other people annoyed him to an absolute degree. He loved eating while watching old films; often falling asleep on the living room couch.
Keep it simple?
Do you guys want to know why, when, and for what reasons or do you guys even give a shit?
As he left the elevator on the second floor, he ran into his neighbor Ms. Grady. She was young, and quite striking. As an aspiring journalist she held an internship at the Daily Planet. Any other day, Harold would have loved to bump into her. He often romanticized about having an unobstructed affair with her. Harold’s face, especially when she was around, turned lust red and his left eye would begin twitching in time with the myriad of dirty thoughts running through his mind. He usually didn’t mind that she worked for a newspaper, which he hated, and usually went out of his way to say hello to her. But because of his mood on that last day of April, he was destined to greet her with a glare. “A Daily Planetarian, fucking great,” he thought.
“Hello, Mr. Sader! Hear about the news? I’m going out to meet some friends for a drink and celebrate. I ran into Mrs. Sader, she seemed, well…” Ms. Grady dropped her head, then quickly arose “…are you two going out to celebrate?”
“I don’t fucking care about any of that. Good day, Ms. Grady.”
Harold quickly flipped his apartment door, leaving Ms. Grady with an astonished face. The “bing” from the elevator’s arrival snapped her back into reality. She walked on and quickly shrugged off Mr. Sader’s offense.
When Harold walked through the door, it was apparent that Maggie had cleaned the apartment. Spic and perfectly span, she had rid of Harold’s lazy mess in the living room. She washed away the residue of weeks Harold had spent eating in front of the television. She folded the linens Harold used to sleep on the sofa every night. And most importantly, organized the nonsensical doodles and ramblings Harold put to paper before he drifted off each night. Harold scanned the apartment without saying a word to Maggie, who was lying on the couch watching the evening news.
“I need to speak with you. I wasn’t sure when you’d be returning. It seems that I haven’t seen you for quite sometime and am unsure of your schedule these days.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve been doing the same damn thing, everyday, for the last six years.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you…
“What happen with my notes?” Harold had no interest in conversing with Maggie. His brain was boiling over his writings she had cleaned up.
“I put them on the bookshelf…”
“Did you fucking read them? That stuff is none of your…”
“I saw one page, it didn’t make any sense to me Harold. Notes on some old film or rather. A Barbara Stanwyck mov…”
“Double Indemnity,” Harold shot, annoyed with his wife’s confusion.
“Sure, Harold… They just seemed like summaries…”
Harold glared at her from the front door separating the kitchen and living room.
Maggie dropped her head, “I want a divorce, Harry. I can’t do this anymore…”
Awaiting a response, Maggie shot her gaze to meet Harold’s. Harold remained completely un-reactionary.
“With what happened in the news…the whole scare now gone…I spent the last six months worried that we would die like this, Harry. My life has gotten into such a defunct cycle. We never acknowledge one another anymore. I forget why we got married in the first place; it’s been so long since we even touched.”
“Who is it?” Harold muttered.
“No one, Harry. There’s been absolutely no-one else. The news today has made me realize that there’s hope for my life, yet. I shouldn’t be forced to settle down with this unhappiness for the rest of my time on this planet. Thirty isn’t old, it still leaves a lot of time for me to be happy, to do what I need to do and to make sure I leave this planet fulfilled.”
“This planet…?” Harold resolved, “You think for one minute that this isn’t all there is for us? Because some fucking alien fixed things for this country that everything is going to be fucking okay for the rest of us; for the people who actually belong on your so-called ‘planet’?”
“I’m leaving tomorrow to stay with Shirley from work until I can get back on my feet. Goodnight, Harold. I hope that sometime we can speak cordially about this, at least before the paperwork is organized.”
Maggie lifted off the couch and started to undo her earrings. She had not undressed from her work apron. Harold realized that her compulsive cleaning and her work garb untouched meant that Maggie had been stewing with her decision for a while, waiting to break the news to him. She snapped off the television and strolled into their bedroom. She abruptly shut the door.
Harold had not moved from the stance he situated himself in since walking through the apartment door. Once she retired to the bedroom, Harold moved towards the couch and dropped his knapsack on the living room floor. Harold felt that Maggie’s news was in direct result of that coffee mug, and silently cracked a desperate snicker. He had fully realized the cosmic disturbance of his fate, he felt, nothing less could’ve transpired when that cup entered his day, and now, finally, the worst was over.
He removed his damp coat and grabbed a hold of the remote. Ready to retire the night, he clicked on the television and removed his shoes. He perched his legs on the coffee table in a relaxing pose. As the white light of the television’s electrons formed its picture, Harold saw the awful big red and yellow “S.” Maggie had left the channel on the evening news. He quickly changed the channel, and yet that “S” was the initial focus. This was true for every channel he changed. His legs fell from the coffee table and dropped apart on the floor in a stomp. Harold sat up intensely on the couch. He aggravatingly stared at the television as he scrolled through the channels. After cycling through all the television stations for a third time, Harold slammed the remote into the coffee table causing it to explode in pieces of plastic and battery. He placed his head between his hands and the salt from his eyes poured down his neck into his collared shirt. He felt beaten, yet, this was the same a enraged salt as before. He cried, and his teeth chattered.
Harold awoke about two hours later. He looked at the screen, still dominated by Superman’s insignia, and started to shake. As he came to, Harold heard Maggie’s voice. He couldn’t quite make out the conversation, but automatically inferred she was conversing with another man. He wiped his eyes and neck and blinked spastically. He could slightly make out that Maggie was speaking of Superman. Harold had known the phonetics of that word, very well. The word triggered very angry emotions from him, every day. She was, more than likely, discussing Superman’s recent triumph. Just when Harold had caught wind of the conversation, Maggie’s voice had ceased. He stared at the bedroom door. The salt in his eyes stung. He started to squint while still gritting his teeth. His shaking turned violent, causing all the muscles in his body to vibrate.
No, I don’t think you know where it goes from here. Actually, I think you fucks know very little. I was watching, remember?
The shower in the bedroom started. Harold snapped out of his trance and charged over to the bookshelf to find his writings. Once discovered, Harold shuffled through them frantically as if he were looking for a certain piece a paper. He threw the unwanted sheets all around the living room; finally, towards the end of the stack, he had settled on one piece of paper. The top, in big, bold handwriting read “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” He scanned the illegible notes on the paper, searching only for one tiny piece of scribble.
Harold stood at the bookshelf, scanning that piece of paper over and over again. The stream of the shower turned sporadic, signifying that she had stepped into it. Harold noticed this auditory change and shifted his body towards the bedroom door. He crumpled the paper only using his right hand, for he had found the passage on the page he was looking for. He quickly threw the paper down and slowly crept to the bedroom door. He entered.
The sound of the shower immersed Harold. Now he could loosely see Maggie’s reflection off the slightly opened bathroom door’s dress mirror. She was stunning amidst the steam and flourescent light. She had always showered with the curtains open because she was severely claustrophobic. He stood and watched her lather and started to recoil from the decision he was about to make. He started doubting his unrealized action when Maggie’s cellphone erupted a loud vibration against the wooden night stand where it laid. Harold’s eyes floated to the screen to see who it may be, and was not at all shocked to find that the call log read DAVE SAL. He surmised that the other man he had expected her of seeing, was none other than his boss, Dave Salinger…
No, they actually were not having an affair.
Dave was an old high-school fling of Maggie’s. That’s how Harold got the job at Pearl.
Yes, Dave called Maggie to talk about my involvement, to see if I could help her.
…He had more than enough motivation now, nevermind the hesitation from watching her before. Maggie coughed from the shower, causing Harold to spring his entire body back in view of the bathroom. He cringed, and he ran in.
Yes, I believe the blow was quick. But he didn’t necessarily hit her.
What do I mean?
Harold charged into the bathroom and with one foul swoop of his right arm, flipped Maggie through the air. Her shoulders buckled back and within milliseconds her legs hovered above her head. She had no time to scream whatsoever. In fact, the only sounds were when the tub faucet cracked the back of her head with a celery like snap, and when her body fell after, in a rhythmic thud. He stood over her as the tub filled with watered-down blood, gushing out of the back her head. Her bright blue eyes were wide open without blinking while the shower, still at full power, rained it’s salt on her face. Maggie’s body quivered a little. Her left hand was hanging outside of the tub, and it twitched for a short time before quitting, forever.
Like I said, there was no weapon. Well, discounting the tub and its parts, I suppose.
Yeah, that’s when I called. But he used the phone only minutes after he killed her.
He called you guys? I knew the man was deranged.
Too bad, she was paying good money for me to find out a good reason to divorce him and take whatever he had.
No, I don’t know what compelled her to tell him she was going to divorce him while I was still working for her. Usually they wait until they’ve got something.
Now listen to me, everything I told you in this statement is true, aside from all the visceral and cerebral stuff.
Just take the “when” and the “where” from my side of things.
I just used this as practice for the book I’m going to write about all this.
My mother always told me I should be a writer, she there’s good money in it. Anything probably pays better than this private dick – trash.
You think my story is biased because of this kook’s rant on the evening news?
Of course I do. Everybody and their mother knows what he said.
Something like “I told you fucks, blah, blah, blah, He can’t be everywhere at once!”
Ya, I knew who it was about. But that doesn’t mean I added all that shit about the coffee cup and invented his disposition towards the guy. He sincerely hated the guy.
Ya, THE guy. You know… Superman.
© Keats Ross, Dakota Slim Hymns, 2009